Big Phil suffers rare coaching setback

BUENOS AIRES - Luiz Felipe Scolari lasted only seven months as Chelsea manager after surviving more than 15 years in the cut-throat world of Brazilian coaching.

During his long and controversial coaching career, Scolari has become used to leaving through the front door and Monday's dismissal was a rare setback for the 60-year-old known as Big Phil.

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Scolari was a rough and ready central defender in his playing days with provincial clubs in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. He later said of his playing career: "I made the ball cry."

But, after taking up a career as a physical education instructor, he came into his own as a coach.

He won the Libertadores Cup, South America's equivalent of the Champions League, with Gremio and Palmeiras and had collected a hatful of titles by the time he left his homeland in 2002 to coach Portugal.

Those included the greatest prize of all when Scolari, having taken over as Brazil coach at one of the team's lowest ebbs only one year earlier, led his country to their fifth world title in 2002.

He bravely gambled on Ronaldo, who had just recovered from a succession of injury problems, as his striker and ignored national clamour to include 36-year-old Romario, hugely gifted but equally temperamental, in his squad.

That victory turned Scolari into a national hero. He had prospered in one of the world's most ruthless coaching environments, even if his methods were often questioned.

Scolari publicly encouraged his players to foul the opposition, saying that other coaches did the same.

"I'm stupid because I tell the truth while the others lie," he once said.

CAR PARK

Big Phil was once caught by television cameras offering to settle his differences with a referee in the car park after he had been dismissed from the touchline.

"I'll wait for you outside, mate," shouted Scolari, his eyes wild with rage, in front of millions of television viewers.

He was famous for intimidating match officials and for ordering ball boys to throw spare balls on to the field to disrupt opposition attacks when his team were winning.

During the 1998 Brazilian championship final, when his Palmeiras team committed 40 fouls in the first leg against Vasco da Gama, Scolari was sent off for getting involved in a pushing match with a rival player on the touchline.

He mellowed considerably after his move to Portugal in 2002 and managed to galvanise a team of perennial underachievers.

Portugal reached the 2004 European Championship final and the World Cup semi-finals in Germany two years later, equalling their best performance at the tournament, eliminating England on both occasions.

But Scolari's rougher edges occasionally surfaced.

Portugal's second-round match against the Netherlands in Germany will be remembered as one of the most unsavoury World Cup games ever.

Throughout the tournament, Scolari would wildly gesticulate on the touchline at every refereeing decision against his side and, in what appeared an orchestrated move, substitutes and team officials would leap off the bench and do the same.

Scolari's famous temper erupted during a Euro 2008 qualifying game against Serbia when he aimed a punch at Ivica Dragutinovic after being pushed by the player.

After six years with Portugal, he took the plunge with Chelsea in a league he had often praised for its professionalism.

Seven months on, having barely had time to get to grips with the language and the climate let alone build a team, Scolari has discovered that football in the Premier League has become almost as volatile as in his native Brazil.

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